We need to remember that embryonic stem cell research is legal. In the absence of the federal government, the states are already taking the lead. California is at the forefront of establishing a robust embryonic stem cell research program. New Jersey has followed suit, and seven other states are in the process of doing so. We do not want our stem cell research policies left to the vagaries of state electoral politics. The federal government in general, and the National Institutes of Health in particular, must be involved. The less NIH is involved with its time-tested methods and procedures, the less we are assured . . . good ethical guidelines and scientific methods will be followed. Instead, we will have more and more individual states attempting to set up their own regulatory schemes, something they may or may not be equipped to do.
Opponents argue that it is the product of a utilitarian world view, that somehow this is a zero-sum game in which life is taken in order to give life. I think the strictures that are established by H.R. 810 negate that argument. Under this bill, federal research will proceed using those embryos not used in fertility clinics, embryos voluntarily given that would otherwise be destroyed, that is, embryos that held the promise of life but are certain not to fulfill that promise. What we are doing is extending the potential [for] life where otherwise there would be none.
I rise in very strong support of the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act, which will expand the federal policy and implement stricter ethical guidelines for this research.
Embryonic stem cell research is necessary in discovering the causes of a myriad of genetic diseases, to testing new drug therapies more efficiently on laboratory tissue instead of human volunteers, and to staving off the ravages of disease with the regeneration of our bodies' essential organs.
President George W. Bush's policy on stem cell research limits federal funding only to embryonic stem cell lines that were derived by Aug. 9, 2001, the date of his policy announcement.
Of the 78 stem cell lines promised by President Bush, only 22 are available to researchers. Unfortunately these stem cell lines are aged and contaminated with mouse feeder cells, making their therapeutic use for humans uncertain. According to the majority of scientists, if these stem cell lines were transplanted into people, they would provoke dangerous viruses in humans.
What is even more disturbing is the fact that there are at least 125 new stem cell lines, which are more pristine than the lines currently available on the National Institutes of Health registry, which are ineligible for federally funded research because they were derived after Aug. 9, 2001.
This restrictive embryonic stem cell research policy is making it increasingly more difficult to attract new scientists to this area of research because of concerns that funding restrictions will keep this research from being successful.
The Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act does not change the current policy on the use of federal funds; this measure simply seeks to lift the cutoff date for lines available for research. H.R. 810 will also strengthen the ethical standards guiding the federal research on stem cell lines and will ensure that embryos donated for stem cell research were created for the purposes of in vitro fertilization, in excess of clinical need, would have otherwise . . . [been] discarded and involved no financial inducement.
Contrary to what opponents have been saying, the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act will not federally fund the destruction of embryos.
H.R. 810 is clear that unused embryos will be used for embryonic stem cell research only by decision of the donor. No federally funded research will be supported by this measure if the embryos were created and destroyed solely for this purpose.
In February 2005, the Civil Society Institute conducted a nationwide survey of 1,022 adults and found that 70 percent supported bipartisan federal legislation to promote embryonic stem cell research.
Let public interest triumph over ideological special interests. Public interest is best served when the medical and the scientific community is free to exercise their professional judgment in extending and enhancing human life.
I did not vote for H.R. 810 because of my concerns about using federal taxpayer spending for this type of research.
The controversy surrounding using federal tax dollars for embryonic stem cell research comes from the fact that the stem cells are removed from human embryos, which many believe, myself included, is destroying a life such embryos could become. There are times when my vote on legislation comes down to a question of conscience, and this was one of those votes.
Stem cell research is legal in the United States, and promising federal research using adult stem cells is being funded through the National Institutes of Health. Privately funded research also is being conducted, and several states are moving forward with taxpayer-funded stem cell research programs.
I have always been a strong supporter of medical research and believe that the federal government has a responsibility to provide substantial funding for the National Institutes of Health to find better treatments and ultimately cures for diseases such as cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer's and Parkinson's. I will continue to support and advocate for this type of research funding.
Fortunately there are promising alternatives to embryonic stem cell research, including stem cell research using cells from living adults. Adult stem cells have already been used to successfully treat several autoimmune diseases, among them multiple sclerosis, systemic lupus, rheumatoid arthritis and anemia. Scientists also have found a stem cell in adult bone that is capable of becoming bone, cartilage, fat or liver tissue cells. Even one of NIH's researchers and a pioneer in stem cell studies, Dr. Ronald McKay, has indicated that studies show "there are alternative strategies" to harvesting stem cells from embryos.
In considering H.R. 810 and closely listening to the debate on the legislation, I was struck by the statements of several House colleagues who are medical professionals and who oppose the use of federal funds for human embryonic stem cell research. Rep. Dave Weldon [R-Fla.] . . . practiced medicine for 15 years before he was elected to the House, and still sees patients once a month. He has seen firsthand the exciting progress being made through new treatments, like adult stem cell transplants. He said that one patient with a spinal cord injury had a therapeutic procedure -- not yet approved in the United States -- which harvested stem cells from the nose and placed them in strips along the injured section of the spinal cord. He said an adult stem cell transplant has given this patient the ability to move about without her wheelchair.
Another physician serving in Congress, Rep. Charles Boustany Jr. [R-La.], also agreed about the use of adult stem cells. He made the point that while embryonic stem cell research has resulted in no human treatments or cures, adult stem cells are offering real hope and have been used successfully to treat over 58 diseases ranging from diabetes to heart disease to paralysis.
Both Congressman Weldon and Congressman Boustany also agreed about the great promise being shown through the retrieval and use of stem cells from a baby's umbilical cord following birth. Cord-blood stem cells are collected by hospitals before the placenta is discarded, thus bypassing the ethical controversy over the use of stem cells from embryos and fetuses. Transplants of such stem cells have saved the lives of roughly 20,000 Americans with such diseases as leukemia, sickle cell anemia and lymphoma. The final fiscal 2005 spending measure which I supported included nearly $10 million for the National Cord Blood Stem Cell Bank Program. . . .
I understand the concerns about the current limits on federal funding of embryonic stem cell research; however, it is not clear whether allowing taxpayer funding to be used to create and fund new human embryo stem cell lines would have a significant impact. The Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology (an association of in vitro fertilization [IVF] clinics) commissioned the Rand Corporation to conduct a study on the status and disposition of frozen embryos and found that while there are roughly 400,000 embryos in IVF clinics around the country, over 90 percent are waiting to be used by the couple or donated to other couples for adoption.
It concluded that, at most, 275 new embryonic stem cell lines could be created from the embryos donated to research in the United States from the embryos in storage in 2003. It further concluded that "this number is only possible if all of the embryos donated to research in the United States are used exclusively to create stem cells, which is highly unlikely to occur."
In addition, the report concluded that this low number of available embryonic stem cell lines will be insufficient to meet scientists' demands and will inevitably lead to additional demands for federal funding for the creation of embryos for research.
The House voted last week to expand federal support of embryonic stem cell research. Among the lawmakers representing Fairfax County, Reps. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.) and James P. Moran Jr. (D-Va.) supported the bill, while Rep. Frank R. Wolf (R-Va.) opposed it. Here are excerpts from Davis's and Moran's remarks on the House floor, taken from the Congressional Record. Wolf did not speak on the floor but later issued a letter explaining his vote, excerpts of which appear here.